Fatherless homes and delinquency: a study of institutionalized African American male youth

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this research is to explore the relationship between fatherless homes and juvenile delinquency, especially as it is perceived by African American adolescent males (N=23) who have been detained in a juvenile detention facility. This study is ethnographic, exploratory, and inductive in its approach. Hypotheses are generated or discovered rather than tested. The methodology that is employed is multi-dimensional as it includes in-depth interviews, self-reports, and participant observation.

The findings suggest that adolescent African American males perceive father-absence as a partial causal factor in their own delinquency, and their peers’ delinquency as well (suggesting most strongly a social control hypothesis, although other possible explanations exist). Family structure (i.e., father-absence) appears to be related to delinquent behavior through the mediating variables of parental supervision, discipline, and gender role modeling.

The results from this study suggest that the dynamics within a family system are more important in explaining delinquent behavior than is the actual family structure. Some of the most insightful research into family structure and delinquency, especially research that aims to inform prevention and treatment programs, may come from examinations of how family structure and function are related.